Joy has always been an issue that I’ve wrestled with. Nehemiah 8:10 says, “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
I’ve been a born again Christian for more than 10 years and the one thing I can’t seem to get a handle on is joy. I’ve had many people advise me that one of the hallmarks of being a Christian is being joyful. Galatians 5:22 lists the fruit of the Spirit; joy being secondary in the list next to love.
The November/December 2008 issue of Today’s Christian Woman (TCW) published a special section that focused specifically on the topic of joy. TCW editor Ginger Kolbaba interviewed Thelma Wells, a popular Christian speaker and author who struggled with cancer. If anyone would know about the highs and lows of joy, it’d be a woman who was placed on life support with the grim prognosis of impending death.
The entire interview is worth reading but Ginger asks Thelma key questions that elicit winning answers—one of them being that people don’t lose joy but rather, it goes “underground.” I’ve highlighted a few of Thelma’s answers that I really identified with.
TCW: What gets in the way of us truly experiencing joy?
THELMA: Trying to be somebody we’re not. God made us wonderfully in his image. But we look at life from the eyes of our culture: where I should live, what I should drive, where my kids should go to school, what I should have in my house. We compete for status, for recognition, for all these things that mean little or nothing in the end. And when we do that, we become confused about who we serve and why we serve.
If we aren’t careful, we can become so depressed and confused and overwhelmed that our joy goes underground. [emphasis mine]
Here I can identify the source of my lack of joy: discontentment. I’m not discontent with my family or my friends or most of my circumstances, however, I am continuously discontent with myself. I am always trying to be—or wishing to be—someone I’m not. I am never satisfied with the person God made me. I try to be a social chameleon but never quite succeed (in my own mind anyway). Discontentment with myself breeds depression in my life.
I don’t think Neil Diamond is a Christian — as far as I know, he’s still Jewish — but he wrote a song called “Pretty Amazing Grace,” which blows my mind because it has some strong Christian concepts behind it. Maybe he’s resolved things between him and God? Who knows?
I’m currently reading a book called Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges. The book focuses on reminding Christians that God draws people to him based on his grace and mercy and not based on our merits or works. The Bible teaches there is nothing people can do to get to heaven. (Ephesians 2:8-9) I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior and became a Baptist 16 years after being a Roman Catholic. Coming from a Roman Catholic background, I’d view my standing with God based on a “points” system. For example, let’s start at zero. If I was nice to or complimented someone, I’d give myself a +1. But later on, if I told a white lie to my parents, I’d give myself a -1 putting me right back where I started. So I’d go back and forth on this points system trying not to reach a deficit. The new church I joined taught that there was no points system, people couldn’t earn their way to heaven, and that one had to rely solely on God’s grace — the gift he gives the people who believe in Jesus Christ.
After a few years though, being a Christian became burdensome — not because of God — but because of the rules the church I attended would begin to impose in my life:
- you’re in sin if you don’t wear a skirt past your knees
- if you don’t go knocking on doors and proselytizing to people, you’re in sin
- if you’re not in church every time the doors are open, you’re in sin
- working on Sundays is a sin unless you’re a doctor or a nurse (it’s OK to heal people on the Sabbath)
The church taught one thing but did another. I began to feel as though I was never doing enough for God no matter how hard I tried. I was back on the points system.
Transforming Grace is a book intended to blow legalism out of the water. It takes legalistic concepts and casts them into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19) or puts them as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). It reminds Christians that any blessings they receive or any favor they find in God’s sight is not based on what they do, how good they are, or how many “points” they’ve racked up. After years of bashing myself as a bad Christian, this book reminds me that in and of myself, I’m a pretty bad person. (Romans 3:10-12) But with a belief in Christ, God doesn’t see me as bad; he sees Christ’s righteousness. So there’s no more points to earn. There’s nothing I can do to make God love me any less or any more.
And this is where Neil Diamond’s song “Pretty Amazing Grace” steps in. I don’t know what Neil Diamond’s spiritual belief is but somehow, he’s grasped the concept of God’s grace quite well. As a result, I’ve chosen “Pretty Amazing Grace” for the song of the week as I continue my studies in learning more about Transforming Grace. You can listen to the full song here, and the lyrics are behind the cut.
Continue reading “Song of the Week: Pretty Amazing Grace by Neil Diamond”
A little late in posting this but better late than never.
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
— Matthew 6:25-34 —
This passage piggybacks off of last week’s verse (Philippians 4:6-7) about not being anxious. Here, Jesus says not to be concerned about God providing for our needs because He takes care of all the little details such as feeding birds to allowing flowers to grow and bloom. Plus, he adds, worrying doesn’t solve anything. (Know anyone who’s been able to fix an issue while experiencing a panic attack?) His listeners are told to first seek God’s will for their lives. Jesus also admonishes them to focus on getting through that day and not worrying about the next day because there are enough issues to deal with at that present moment.
In this economy, it is so easy to worry about losing a job or if that happens, what would happen to paying the rent or putting food on the table. God says He’ll provide for our needs. Not our wants but our needs. Something to keep in mind is our finite human minds cannot comprehend what an infinite God deems as our needs.
Jesus also tells the listening crowd to seek after “the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” The primary need Jesus emphasizes here is God. Everything else that we consider our needs (food, water, shelter, clothing, etc.) is considered extemporaneous, hence, why they are “added to” us. Our needs are first spiritual then physical. (And spiritual often ties into the emotional.)
Worry. Anxiety. How can I apply this so it’ll affect my life?
The answer is simple: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.”
A personal application of this verse would be to do everything with God in mind and emulate His characteristics: holiness, truth, justice, love, care, compassion, and forgiveness among others. I am encouraged to “seek” those things — look for them, strive for them — they are goals to shoot for.
Recently, I’ve been learning the Westminster Catechisms. A catechism is a statement of doctrinal belief often made in a series of questions and answers. The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is “What is the chief end of man?” The answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.“
My chief end in life is to glorify God. Seeking after that could prevent so much worry because I’d know that God would take care of me no matter what happens.
For example, if my husband has shown evidence of his faithfulness to me, I won’t live in fear that he’s banging another woman every time he works late.
God has been in my life a heckuva lot longer than my husband has. He has proven Himself faithful to me time and time again. I’ve seen evidence of his goodness to me: how He brought me and my husband together, how He’s saved me from killing myself, and how He’s blessed me monetarily (we’re not poor). God, like my husband, has never given me any reason to worry about whether He’ll look after me.
My counselor suggested that I write a list of all the things God has done for me in my life so whenever I wonder about His passivity, I can look at it and see how active He really is. Something akin to a list of things I’m grateful for. Otherwise, I tend to have a short memory. The future scares me because I don’t know what to expect. It causes me anxiety and worry. Often it’s because I’m not seeking after Him.
Although I said the answer was simple, I never said putting it into action was easy.
Mood rating: 6
— Philippians 4:6-7 —
Don't worry about anything. Pray and ask God for your needs and desires, thanking Him for everything He's already given to you, and God will provide you with assurance—a kind of heavenly, unfathomable assurance—that will protect your heart and mind from constant worry and anxiety.
While I know I shouldn't worry about anything, I still freak out over things and usually they're the littlest things. (See Don't Sweat the Small Stuff.) The verse encourages me to pray and beseech the Lord for help but I've got to admit, I often forget and try to do things on my own.
The verse encourages me to really talk to God—to make God real in my life as though He were standing face to face with me. Just like I would talk to my mom and go, "Hey, Mom, I'm a little short on cash. Can you help me out today?" Well, not that irreverent but that's the idea. If I have a good relationship with my mom, I wouldn't sit in my bedroom, fretting and worrying about whether I should ask her for money or not—especially if I know she has the money she can spare me.
God wants to hear me talk to Him. And instead of opening my big mouth to Him, I start complaining about my worries and fears to other people. Voicing my concerns isn't so much a problem as ignoring that God can handle it is. And God's word promises that if I give my burdens over to Him (with faith in Jesus Christ), He will provide me with comfort and reassurance that He's got everything under control.
As I am wont to say: It sounds nice in theory. Maybe I should try testing it.
Mood rating: 5.7
During my conversation with Natalie two nights ago, she emphasized infusing her brain with Bible verses and Scriptural passages and encouraged me to do the same. Finally, a thought came to me that a good way of constantly keeping myself in step with the Bible would be to meditate on God’s word. I know all about creating 3 x 5 index cards to help memorize Bible verses but I think a great way for me to really absorb some of the principles that I read would be to post a Bible verse and reflect on:
- What I think it means
- What it means to me
- How it has impacted or can impact my life
While the Bible is no cure-all (nothing currently in this world is!), I believe God’s word “is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
I plan on trying to make this a weekly thing, hopefully for publication each Wednesday. I don’t promise to be perfect but I think doing this over the coming weeks (maybe even months!) will deepen and strengthen my relationship with God and others and will help me to overcome some associated behavioral issues (ie, fear, anxiety, etc.).
I’m a pretty quiet and shy person at first but the more you get to know me, the more you get to love me! (Just kidding about the latter.) In all seriousness, the more I become comfortable in certain social situations or a group of people, I can be loud, outgoing, silly (zany if you’d like!), bubbly, and full of energy.
After close to a year of being at my current place of employment, I have yet to be fully comfortable. My personality comes out in short bursts but then I get quiet, withdraw, and “shut down,” keeping to myself and avoiding interaction with my coworkers if I can help it.
I assume—I don’t know for sure—that they have judged me negatively and for whatever reason don’t like me. In a previous post, I tossed around a couple of social situations where I felt like this before. I invent all sorts of reasons in my head:
- I’m a freak
- I’m a weirdo
- I don’t interact much with them
- I don’t have an immediate warm, outgoing personality
- I don’t dress very fashionably
- I have nervous habits that they probably don’t like
- I am all-around irritating, grating, and annoying in some manner that I don’t know of
Most people struggle with this kind of thing without any real basis. My fear used to be completely unfounded and after the incident at my previous job, I am plagued by thoughts of social anxiety and awkwardness tenfold. I don’t know what I did at my last job to rub my coworkers the wrong way but I wish I knew so I could try to work on it and cut it out. Vague references of “immature” and “annoying” don’t help me much.
So here I throw out the detailed descriptions of social anxiety and social awkwardness. The first one was developed by the NIMH; the second is my own invention built off of the social anxiety description.
Last night, I spent some time on the phone with my husband’s friend’s sister (aka my former pastor’s sister). We’ll call her Natalie.
Natalie was very sweet and kind, really encouraging and strengthening me by sharing her testimony of faith in God. She suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, which has led her to take Paxil (on and off) for the past 7 years. She says the drug has helped her tremendously and who am I to knock the drug (knowing what I know about Paxil/Seroxat) when she has seen the wonders that it has worked in her life?
I briefly explained my story of depression, history of suicide, and diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Although she couldn’t fully relate, she was very sympathetic and understanding. In fact, our conversation was so fruitful, I ended up taking notes!
We briefly touched on the issue of Nouthetic counseling (NC). She has undergone the course and simply needs to be certified. The counselor I currently see is associated with the Christian Counseling Education Foundation (CCEF), which has roots in NC and was founded by the man—Jay Adams—who developed the method. However, CCEF is now known for what is called biblical counseling. The organization has since moved away from pure Nouthetic methods and become more a bit more varied, taking bits and pieces of psychology (and perhaps psychiatry) that line up with the Bible. Adams, disagreeing with the organization’s approach, founded the Institute for Nouthetic Studies and uses the Bible as the sole counseling textbook. According to the wiki entry on Nouthetic counseling, Adams developed the word Nouthetic based on the “New Testament Greek word noutheteō (νουθετέω), which can be variously translated as ‘admonish,’ ‘warn,’ ‘correct,’ ‘exhort,’ or ‘instruct.'”
NC was developed back in the ’70s as a response to the popularity of psychology/psychiatry. Many Christians reject some of the teachings of such popular psychologists as Freud, Jung, Adler, Maslow, etc. Adams’ highly successful book, Competent to Counsel, criticizes the psychology industry and counters its teaching with a Nouthetic approach.
But NC has its Christian critics.
Thanksgiving is several days over and I know I’m late on this but I still thought it would helpful for me to list seven things I’m thankful for this year. (I tried to list ten but I couldn’t think of anything beyond seven.)
1. My secured salvation through Jesus Christ
2. My husband
3. My family (that includes in-laws!)
4. My friends (“real” and “virtual”)
5. My health (For the most part, I’m doing well right now)
6. My wealth (No, I’m not rich but like Gianna at Beyond Meds said: If I have a computer, I’m likely well off.)
7. My job (somewhat self-employed)
I’m not much of a chatterbox today because I have a really bad cold and feel absolutely wiped. Tea with lemon and honey and chicken soup has kept me going this week. I have a Tina Turner concert to go to in NY tomorrow so I hope I’m on the mend by tomorrow morning.
(Image from sarahheidt.mennonite.net)
Pastor Mike at KUPC Ask the Pastors answered the ever-controversial question about suicide that plagues Christianity: Will a Christian go to hell if he or she commits suicide? Pastor Mike answers that suicide is "forgivable but not permissible."
Spacedit at mydepressionconnection.com says that she has gained victory over depression as a result of evil spirits being cast out of her in the name of Jesus Christ. It’s a subject I’ve grappled with myself, and I’m not sure what to believe. But I won’t be passing judgment on her.